Balancing the government checkbook will not solve an economic crisis like the one Puerto Rico is facing.
That was one of the first lessons learned by a group of organizations that visited Detroit to learn about that city’s the experience in the face of financial bankruptcy. The group released Tuesday a report on what they learned from that city’s crisis.
For two days, the participating organizations talked to dozens of leaders, officials, organizations and communities that assumed diverse roles around the city’s bankruptcy. Each provided different perspectives on its causes, solutions, successes and mistakes.
“Espacios Abiertos convened the trip to Detroit to learn from the experiences of a place in which a fiscal authority was also imposed over elected officials,” said Nuria Y. Ortiz-Vargas, executive director of Espacios Abiertos, or EA.
“For EA it is indispensable that there be the highest degree of transparency in the Board’s documents, processes and decisions, since only then will we be able to influence the issues that will affect us for generations,” she said, referring to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico created under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act of 2016.
She also pointed a need to raise the narrative about the real needs of the residents of Puerto Rico to “face the myopic insistence that our problem is one of pure mathematics without taking into account the structural limitations that block socioeconomic development and sound government.”
There are as many differences as there are similarities between Detroit and Puerto Rico, the group said. Although the context and the conditions of each place are very particular, some of the lessons that must be taken into account are:
- That the crisis can not be resolved if the priority is on the numbers and financial aspects, ignoring the human cost of each decision made;
- The importance of defining essential services and ensure that they are not subject to political interests or the interests and ideologies of the members of the Board;
- The need to be alert about the decisions that are made regarding the government’s assets. The water crisis in Detroit and the Flint tragedy are examples of the most tragic aspect of decisions that only take into account fiscal considerations;
- The importance of debt auditing and its restructuring;
- Tackling the predominant narrative that promotes fiscal austerity by showing, from different perspectives, what the myths and realities are.
The organizations participating in the visit to Detroit agreed in their interest to add to the discussion of the financial aspect of the island’s economic crisis, other issues that help to look closely at the human cost of this process.
They also stated that it is vital to identify strategies for education, health, the environment, housing and other fundamental rights to be protected.
The organizations that took part in the September event entitled “Puerto Rico Debt Crisis Convening: Detroit Learning Exchange” were: Amnistía Internacional-Sección de Puerto Rico; Beta-Local; Boys and Girls Club de Puerto Rico; the Center for a New Economy; el Comité Diálogo Ambiental, Inc.; Espacios Abiertos; and business news website Sin Comillas.